It's a difficult journey for anyone dealing with an eating disorder and their family, as a Warren family knows all too well.
Roberta and Clifford Geiger's teenage daughter has been struggling with an eating disorder called Anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), "is a cycle of self-starvation where the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally."
The symptoms of anorexia, according to the Mayo Clinic, are extreme weight loss, abnormal blood counts, fatigue, dizziness or fainting, brittle nails, thinning of the hair or hair loss, absence of menstruation, constipation, dry skin, low blood pressure, dehydration, early onset of osteoporosis and a growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body and face in order for the body to keep warm.
The NEDA said in a May 2008 study that in the United States alone nearly 10 million females and one million males are "fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia."
For females between the ages of 15 to 24 who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death or mental illness, according to the NEDA web site.
The Warren teen has undergone treatment at Children's North Pittsburgh Hospital and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, and the financial and emotional stress has been difficult on both the family and daughter.
"It was very stressful on all of us," said Roberta. "The fact that Warren County or Erie County neither has a facility dealing with this illness or has doctors who are certified in this area was hard. The only hospitals around are several hours away in either Pittsburgh, Buffalo or Philadelphia."
When they first noticed their daughter losing a significant amount of weight, they took her to their family doctor, who, they said, determined she was underweight but healthy.
"She was constantly running and exercising. She would push her food around and never eat," said Clifford. "We knew something was wrong, but it felt like we were in this alone because anorexia is something a lot of people don't want to talk about."
Finally, another health care professional suggested it was an eating disorder and got "the ball rolling."
"It was a very emotional time because the entire family could not be with her," said Roberta. "My husband could only come down (to Pittsburgh) two or three times a week because he was working and taking care of our son. The cost of treatment was extremely high, as well as lodging and food and gas to get to the treatment."
The Geigers said a number of things cause a person to begin anorexia.
"Sometimes it's a diet that gets carried away or you get teased at school about your weight," said Roberta. "Or it can be passed down the family through genes. They just don't realize that they are destroying their bodies as well as fighting to stay alive."
Their daughter continues to work at getting better each day, said the Geigers.
"She continues to get better and feels a lot better each day," said Clifford, "but it doesn't take much to knock them back."
The Geigers believe Warren County needs something in or nearby Warren to help support families and those suffering with an eating disorder.
"It is important to get out the information about eating disorders, whatever kind they may be, to increase knowledge and awareness to help as many people as possible," said Roberta. "I am optimistic that one day we can have a clinic close by to avoid having to leave all our supports to get help."
The Geigers will be starting an eating disorder support group at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 19 at the Youngsville Free Methodist Church. Families who have a member struggling with an eating disorder, those currently dealing with one or have overcome an eating disorder are invited to attend the support group.
They are also looking at starting a walk-athon.
"It's a start in the right direction. I hope through this we can bring awareness to the community. We have a ton of information regarding eating disorders and other resource lists. It's also something that no one should be ashamed of; a lot of people struggle with an eating disorder," said Roberta. "I believe if we can save someone then it's good enough for me."